1. What kind of homework do you assign and how often? Are the assignments similar to the assessments? Do you go over it during class time? Do you check to see if they did it at all or do the students that didn't do it just sit there if you do go over it?
I typically assign homework on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I keep the days consistent as I have found that this improves the rate of completion when it is not a class (like math) where there is homework each night. The homework I assign should take a student between 10-15 minutes to complete and is usually a reinforcement of a weak point they have demonstrated in class performance. As a result, the type of assignments vary greatly, but may include work with conjugation, memory cues for vocabulary, independent sentence creation or a short writing exercise, or an extension activity.
The next day in class I go from student to student looking for the homework and I do a quick look through. Specifically, I am looking for common errors, incomplete sections, or anything fishy. I am able to immediately comment on these situations and honestly, we know who we have to keep our eye on pretty quickly. For many students, the fear that drives them to complete homework in the first place is not necessarily the loss of points but the fear of being confronted for not doing it. Simply having students pass in work or put it in a tray or basket greatly reduces their chance of being confronted, and the fear attached. This is why I personally go to each student. It takes less than 5 minutes and students can be involved working on another assigned task as you walk around. Don't get me wrong, I am not a scary teacher by any means, but they do know that I will know if they didn't complete something and that I will confront them about it. This keeps most of them honest.
Following my walk-around, I do usually review a part of the homework. If a large number of students didn't "get" a section, I will review that. I always collect the homework despite the fact that it does not earn the students any points. Mentally, this makes them feel as if I am going to scour their paper for errors when I go home that evening. In reality, most of that homework goes straight to the recycling bin.
2. What happens to a student that has reached the grade he or she wants but doesn't want to complete an independent study project?
I have many students who meet the expectations of the course and are just fine with that. They do not have the intrinsic motivation to design and complete independent study lessons. There are always enough activities planned for class that the students who are happy with the status quo have plenty to do. If they want to keep working on something they have already mastered, that is up to them. I can not require more than what is expected, though I can encourage it - and some will take advantage. This year I had a group pf boys that played on a summer soccer league together and their coach was Hispanic. Completely on their own time, they designed a lesson for themselves where they learned the field positions and verbs specific to the game of soccer. They wanted to use them this summer during games so that players from other teams wouldn't know what was going on but they and their coach would. I also had a girl who went on a missions trip to Mexico and missed a week of school. She designed a unit for herself around asking questions about school and life to the girl she would be spending the week with.
3. What sort of assessments do you give? Are they pencil and paper? Do you focus on all four skills at once or individually? How long are your assessments usually? What do you do to make a test "cheat proof"?
The type of assessment depends on the week as discussed in this former blog post about my two-week model. Week 1 tests will focus on reading skills (vocabulary focus), listening skills (vocabulary focus), and grammar knowledge (endings, conjugation process). While these tests may not be as "cheat proof" as Week 2 tests, they are in large part focused on memorization, so they don't need to be. The only way a student can cheat is by memorizing the answers (word definitions and grammar endings) - which is exactly what I want them to do in the first place. It is easy for me to make another form of the test with the questions in a slightly different order which is typically what I will be for re-takes of these quizzes. Week 2 tests focus on production of the language in either speaking or writing. Typically, I assess speaking on oral presentations and the week to week tests focus more on writing simply due to the need to be more efficient. They usually involve a picture or task to write about. I keep them very open ended so that there really is no way to cheat since no two students would logically have the same answer. My typical assessment is 1 page, front and back.
5. How do you go about talking to the students who did better on the assessment than they have been doing in class?
Typically, I will call students up to my desk when the rest of the class is working independently and tell them what I observed on their last test; "You are really improving", "You have been having trouble", etc. I then usually ask one of two questions; What did you do differently that really helped you to understand this? or What could I have done to help you understand this better? Usually you can tell from the students reaction whether the effort and test grade were genuine. Then I will pick out a couple of questions and ask them to describe to me what they did or what their thought process was. At that point, it's a judgement call. Again, the fact that they know they will be confronted is a big deterrent - if they were dishonest and suspect I am on to them, which is what being confronted indicates, they will not likely be again.
6. Do you keep data on the assessments? If so, what sort do you keep? My district is heavily into the whole data fad, so in order to propose something like this, there would need to be a data component.
Our district has also bought into the whole "data craze". I found a great app called Zipgrade which really helps with the quick and easy collection of data as I discussed in a former blog post. My Week 1 quizzes, which are more objective in nature, are frequently a multiple choice format done using Zipgrade. This allows me to quickly identify areas of strength and weakness. I can shape my instruction for Week 2 based on what I learn from the assessment at the end of Week 1. Another great way to collect "data", though it's a bit more labor intensive is to keep a Linguafolio which is a collection of their work that can demonstrate growth over a longer period of time (semester, year). I am adding this feature next year, so stay tuned!
7. If a student is absent the day of the assessment, do you basically just have them do it when they get back even if they missed the teaching of the material?
How quickly you expect absent students to take the assessment is up to you. The way I see it, since on the day of the assessment we are assessing things they already learned through the beginning of the week, when the student was present, they should be ready to take it immediately. However, I do not want them to miss new instruction and practice by using class time to take a missed test. I typically make appointments with them outside of normal class time. If this is not possible, they take both the old and new assessments the next Friday. If the student missed the teaching of the material, I still have them take the assessment and then we sit down with it and see exactly what information they are missing. That test then becomes a guide that shows the student what they have yet to master and they may re-take it once they have made up the missed work on their own time.
8. When do you have them do these retakes? After school? During class?
Every Friday students are taking an assessment of some sort. Following the scheduled assessment is an independent activity. This allows for a quiet testing environment for those who take longer and check their work. It also allows students to re-take tests from previous weeks in lieu of doing the independent assignment which can easily be taken home to complete. We also have a 30 minute enrichment period each day at our school during which time students may see teachers for extra help. Most of the students at our school rely on bus transportation since they are too young to drive (I taught 9th grade this year in a jr. high setting). In former years, while teaching high school, I allowed after school time, but most students preferred to use the time after the test on Fridays.
9. Do you do any assessments using projects? I am a huge proponent of projects and wonder how they fit into your model.
Absolutely, I have students do some sort of speaking project/assessment once per quarter. Since a quarter is 9 weeks long and I typically teach using the Week 1/Week 2 model that I mentioned earlier, that means that I have an extra week leftover to fill out the quarter (3 - 2 Week Lessons, 1 - 3 Week Lesson). I attach that extra week onto the topic of my choice which allows for 2-3 extra days to prepare for a project and 2 days or so to present. Projects are also great examples of things that can be entered into a Linguafolio. Personally, I like to keep them speaking-based since I feel that is the skill area that is most lacking in my other assessments, but any project you might like to do would fit into this format.